You could never accuse Caribou of lacking ambition; of always taking the path of least resistance; of merely just ‘making’ an album, because there’s a level of detail and creativity that goes far beyond the surface of Dan Snaith’s consistently intriguing output. Twisted; layered; intricate; however it’s packaged, the end result has typically been something of consummate, contrasting beauty.

And it’s the contrast that constantly gives Caribou its impetus; from the skittish, analogue development of debut album ‘Start Breaking My Heart’, through to the soporific magic of ‘Andorra’, progression and experimentation are the lifeblood of everything that escapes Snaith’s calculated mind.

Where he once tinkered and trialled, plumbing the depth and structure of jazzed, experimental noise (‘Up In Flames’) and slipped into the edgy territory of Massive Attack and UNKLE (‘The Milk of Human Kindness’), he gave ‘Andorra’ a dreamy psychedelic swirl Animal Collective garnered numerous plaudits for.

But in the same way Kieran Hebden channelled his earlier, itchy ADHD’d inclinations into Four Tet’s recent long-played mesmerism, Snaith has made similar tweaks to the Caribou dynamic. An explosive live band (it’s difficult not to be with twin drummers), ‘Swim’ doesn’t carry that immediate, salt-air threat, and is more an album born of consideration and contemplation.

It lacks the mammoth assaults of imploding percussion – content to tread water amidst temperate, subtle build ups – and although you constantly expect the house of cards to collapse in spectral splendour, you’re rarely disappointed when they don’t. In fact, when the atmosphere is tenderly charged up to its glorious detonation on closer, ‘Jamelia’ – where many albums peak and disappointingly peter out – here it feels like the ostentatious finale it promised to be.

By default, because ‘Swim’ is not an album of ambient fork-lightning flashes, this might render it a disappointment to some – and the fact that there is no ranging, nerveless statement of grand, open-ended ambition in the same vein as Niobe might also consternate and frustrate. Those are moot points, however, because ‘Swim’ is underpinned by a staggering clarity. This is an album, and these are tracks that have been burned and buffeted into the latest Caribou mould; polished and left pristine.

Not as overtly sunshine ditzy as its predecessor, it carries an almost dead-eyed, tongue out concentration, the distant, American plain rumble of ‘Bowls’ rolling into a slowlife of an onrushing buffalo thunder and the ingenuity of a thousand fleet-fingered hands tapping and tinkling a minimal kitchenware march.

It’s an unlikely combination at face value but one that has you gripped by both its scarcity and creativity. The melancholic swirl of ‘Sun’ radiates both the solar warmth of an Olafur Eliasson exhibition and lament of the impending end of summer frolics, ‘Found Out’ is pensive, metronomic and perfectly formed – Snaith’s pitched vocal slicing through languid synth and a dusting of sleigh bell – and the glimmering despondence of ‘Leave House’ could crystalise Junior Boys’ finest moment.

Focused, economic – and dare I say it, efficient – for a man and a band prone to moments of distraction, ‘Swim’ is all about condensing; all about refinement. The sonic monsters might be sleeping but it doesn’t make this album any less astounding.

By Reef Younis

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